Thursday, November 29, 2007
Breaking Down The Blockbuster
With the baseball world buzzing over Johan Santana trade scenarios and the annual Winter Meetings just days away, the Twins made an unexpected big splash Wednesday by sending Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Devil Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie. In one move new general manager Bill Smith significantly reshaped the roster while showing that he's already more willing to take risks than predecessor Terry Ryan was during his final days at the helm.
Smith's first risk is a doozy. Originally the trade had Garza, Bartlett, and Juan Rincon heading to Tampa Bay, but concerns over the status of Rincon's balky elbow caused the Twins to inexplicably substitute Morlan while keeping the remainder of the deal intact. While it'll no doubt be a glossed-over aspect of a blockbuster trade, the difference between Rincon and Morlan is substantial and increases the already strong chance that the deal will be unkind to the Twins over the long haul.
On the most basic level the trade fits the team's logical, oft-stated plan to part with pitching depth in order to address weaknesses offensively, with the Twins swapping a former top pitching prospect for a former top hitting prospect. However, the trade actually involves specific players rather than simple team-building generalities and once you get past the Garza-for-Young portion of the swap it tilts pretty heavily in the Devil Rays' favor both short and long term.
Garza ranked as the team's No. 1 prospect heading into the season and pitched well after being called up from Triple-A in July, posting a 3.69 ERA and 67-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83 innings. A 2005 first-round pick who turned 24 years old earlier this month and won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season, Garza looks capable of being a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter right now and has the potential to be a No. 1 starter down the road if his secondary pitches improve.
Morlan ranked as the team's No. 8 prospect coming into the season and improved his stock by posting a 3.10 ERA and 99-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70 innings between high Single-A and Double-A. The 21-year-old former third-round pick has dominated in the minors and projects as a late-inning reliever who could be ready to make a significant big-league impact as soon as 2008. Meanwhile, Rincon is set to make about $4 million via arbitration and is in the midst of a steady decline.
Last but not least the Twins surprisingly sent their 28-year-old starting shortstop packing, although perhaps it isn't such a shock given the lengths that they went to avoid handing Bartlett the starting gig in the first place. Bartlett remained at Triple-A in favor of Juan Castro long after he'd proven himself in the minors and then hit .282/.350/.374 with 33 steals and strong defense in 239 games after finally taking over for Castro in mid-2006, yet a hitting-starved team with no clear replacement just let him go.
The package that the Twins received in return for Garza, Morlan, and Bartlett essentially means that Young must become a superstar for the trade to be successful. That's certainly possible, because there are many people who've long felt that the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft is a truly elite talent. Baseball America named him their Minor League Player of the Year in 2005 and ranked him as the single best prospect in all of baseball heading into the 2006 season.
When Young finished his minor-league career that August he had a .318/.362/.518 hitting line in 353 games. He then made his MLB debut as a 20-year-old, batting .317/.336/.476 in 30 games with the Devil Rays while narrowly retaining his "rookie" status. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 3 prospect in baseball heading into 2007 and he placed fourth on the annual AG.com top-50 list, but his spot on my list came with some stated concerns about plate discipline and power development:
Young hit .326 with 45 homers and 78 walks in his first 215 games while reaching Double-A as a 19-year-old, but has since seen his power and plate discipline decline. Young continued to hit well after a promotion to Triple-A in mid-2005, batting .306 over a 168-game stretch that includes a month in the majors, but managed just 17 homers and 20 walks during that span. He's still bound for stardom, but might be a different type of hitter than he initially appeared.The questions about his power and plate discipline loom even larger now, with Young managing just 13 homers and 26 walks in 681 plate appearances while hitting a modest .288/.316/.408 during his first full season. His long-term potential remains very good, because players who merely hold their own in the majors as 21-year-olds often turn out to be special, but it's concerning that he's hacked at everything while showing only moderate power since advancing past Double-A in mid-2005:
PA AVG IsoP BB% SO%Young has maintained a high batting average wherever he's gone, which is incredibly impressive for someone who was a teenager at Triple-A and reached the majors at 20. However, after posting a fantastic .228 Isolated Power in 936 plate appearances between Single-A and Double-A, his Isolated Power in 1,416 trips to the plate between Triple-A and majors has been a pedestrian .141. In other words, he's lost about 40 percent of the power that he showed early in his pro career.
To be clear, a 21-year-old who bats .297 with a .141 Isolated Power in 1,400 trips to the plate between Triple-A and the majors is a very good prospect. However, those numbers don't necessarily forecast MVP-caliber greatness, which is what many projected for Young and what the Twins may need to "win" the trade. A big part of the decline in power is that Young has been an extreme ground-ball hitter in the majors, which makes it difficult to hit the ball into the gaps and impossible to hit the ball over the fence.
Beyond the power issue, another concern with Young's recent performance is that his plate discipline has vanished. Never especially patient, Young walked in 7.8 percent of his plate appearances between Single-A and Double-A, which is a shade better than Torii Hunter's career mark. Since then he's drawn a free pass in just 3.1 percent of his plate appearances, which is an abysmal rate that when combined with his drop in power now makes Young anything but a sure thing to become an elite hitter.
That's obviously the bad news. The good news is that, flaws and all, Young remains a strong bet to become a good hitter. In fact, after being about 10 percent below average in 2007, he can probably be expected to be more or less a league-average hitter in 2008. That may not seem overly impressive, but it'd be plenty good for a 22-year-old. Even if he fails to develop much more power and continues to swing at everything, Young still figures to eventually settle in as a solidly above-average hitter.
Of course, if Young becomes "only" a solidly above-average hitter there's a very good chance that the Twins will regret making the trade, because Harris and Pridie don't have nearly the kind of long-term upside that the three players heading to the Devil Rays possess. Garza ranked No. 8 overall on the same AG.com top-50 prospects list that had Young fourth, Morlan is among the best relief prospects around, and the notion that Bartlett-for-Harris is a simple swap of young shortstops is very misleading.
Taken by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 2001 draft, Harris was traded to the Expos in mid-2004 as part of the massive four-team "Nomar Garciaparra trade" that sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox. Almost exactly two years later he was traded to Cincinnati in former Twins assistant Wayne Krivsky's first big deal as Reds general manager, with Krivsky then giving him to the Devil Rays last winter for a player to be named later.
Throughout all the bouncing around, Harris consistently put up strong numbers in the minors. He's a career .294/.359/.467 hitter in 2,500 minor-league plate appearances, including .287/.349/.459 in over 1,300 plate appearances at Triple-A. Given his first extended chance in the majors with Tampa Bay, he matched his Triple-A production by batting .286/.343/.434 with 12 homers, 50 total extra-base hits, and a 96-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 137 games. Here's how he compares to Bartlett offensively:
TRIPLE-A PA AVG OBP SLG IsoP IsoD SO% SBWhile certainly not a power hitter--he's shown about as much pop as Young did as a rookie--Harris has far more power than Bartlett and possesses similar plate discipline. Bartlett has the edge in on-base skills thanks primarily to a lower strikeout rate and better speed, which also makes him a far more dangerous and effective baserunner. Add it all up and they're similarly valuable offensively, which makes the swap of shortstops seem like a relatively even one.
And it is, except for one huge factor. Harris played 750 innings at shortstop in 2007, but that was due mostly to the Devil Rays lacking other options. He was clearly stretched there defensively after rarely seeing time at the position during his minor-league career and was eventually moved to second base when manager Joe Maddon grew tired of his obvious lack of range. Meanwhile, despite a high number of errors Bartlett has proven himself to be a solid defensive shortstop thanks to above-average range.
INN FLD% ZR RZRThey have identical fielding percentages, but that just shows Harris as less than sure-handed while displaying the uselessness of evaluating defense from fielding percentages. Zone Rating and Revised Zone Rating measure the percentage of balls hit into a player's "zone" defensively that he converts into an out and Bartlett has done so about 10 percent more often than Harris. That's a huge disparity and Harris' defensive numbers show him as one of the worst shortstops in baseball last season.
In other words, while they're close offensively Bartlett has a huge defensive edge that leaves a gaping hole in the infield. If the Twins replace Bartlett with Harris at shortstop, the dropoff figures to be at least double-digit runs and could be much more. If the Twins correctly realize that and instead view Harris as an option only at second or third base, then they've traded away a 28-year-old shortstop who's above average on both sides of the ball for a lesser, non-shortstop without having an in-house replacement.
Harris is a solid player, but doesn't field well enough to be a starting shortstop, might be stretched even as a regular second baseman, and doesn't hit enough to be a big asset at third base. There are no doubt more trades on the way and perhaps one will bring a quality shortstop back, but until then the Twins' options are Harris, Nick Punto, and Alexi Casilla. Harris and Casilla would be big downgrades defensively and Punto would simply shift the lineup hole from the position Harris fills to shortstop.
In other words, the Twins have filled two lineup holes with Young and Harris, but the cost to do so was a pair of extremely talented young pitchers and by also dealing Bartlett in the process they've opened up a different hole that's a lot more difficult to capably fill both offensively and defensively. Of course, there's a third player coming from the Devil Rays along with Young and Harris, and the Twins have clearly been very high on him for years.
Back in 2005 the Twins selected Pridie in the Rule 5 draft, only to offer him back to the Devil Rays prior to Opening Day. At the time he was a 21-year-old who was limited to 29 games at Double-A during the previous because of injuries and hit just .219/.276/.396. His prospect stock has improved since then, and this time around Pridie is a 24-year-old who hit .303/.352/.487 with 14 homers, 57 total extra-base hits, and a 92-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 134 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
Unfortunately, Pridie's success in 2007 sticks out from the rest of his otherwise mediocre track record and he had a horrible season at Double-A in 2006, batting .230/.281/.304 in 132 games. He's still young, has enough speed to play center field, and has occasionally shown the ability to hit, but Pridie's plate discipline is sub par and his power is modest. Unless 2007 is the beginning of a sustained breakout, he looks like a fourth outfielder.
Add it all up and the Twins have traded two big pieces of their current team and three potentially big pieces of their future teams for Young and a pair of role players. The Twins' front office clearly believes that Young will become a very special hitter and despite some sizable current flaws he's absolutely within range of that career path. However, anything short of Young becoming a perennial All-Star and occasional MVP candidate leaves an awful lot of room for the Twins to regret Smith's first big trade.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Studying The Santana Menu: New York Yankees
When it comes to teams potentially being in the mix for Johan Santana, the two keys are money and young talent. Any team trading for Santana would be doing so with an eye toward locking him up to a long-term contract extension that figures to approach $150 million or more, which significantly limits the pool of suitors. Beyond that, any team trading for Santana would likely be sending the Twins an impressive package of young talent in return, which again limits the potential landing spots.
There are some teams that have plenty of money and some teams that have plenty of young talent, but only a handful of teams that can claim both. Among that select group of teams, the Yankees stand out as perhaps the best fit to acquire Santana. Not only would the Yankees have little problem handing Santana a $150 million extension, they have a strong collection of young players both at the big-league level and in the minors. In other words, they can pay Santana and they can pay the Twins.
On my annual "Top 50 Prospects" list, published way back in mid-March, Phil Hughes ranked as the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball behind only Royals third baseman Alex Gordon. At the time I wrote that Hughes was "a near-perfect pitching prospect." Since then he posted a 1.91 ERA in 37.2 minor-league innings and then had a 13-start stint with the Yankees in which he went 5-3 with a 4.46 ERA, 58-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .235 opponent's batting average in 72.2 innings as a 21-year-old.
Hughes' minor-league track record is nearly flawless and the former first-round pick has overpowering stuff, which the Rangers experienced first-hand when he no-hit them for six-plus innings before leaving his second career start with a hamstring injury. Short of cloning Francisco Liriano or convincing the Mariners to part with Felix Hernandez, Hughes represents the best chance the Twins have of replacing Santana with an early-20s pitcher capable of being a true No. 1 starter.
He's a young, MLB-ready stud who could step right into the rotation for Santana and won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season. No 21-year-old pitcher is a sure thing and literally replacing Santana will be nearly impossible, but Hughes is as good a bet as you'll find. He's also not alone. The Yankees also have Joba Chamberlain, another 21-year-old former first-round pick who blitzed through the minors with a 2.45 ERA and 135-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88.1 innings.
Chamberlain then joined the Yankees' bullpen and posted a 0.38 ERA, 34-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .145 opponent's batting average in 24 innings down the stretch. Despite his tremendous early success in the bullpen, Chamberlain still projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter who could fall back into being a dominant late-inning reliever. He's perhaps less polished, but like Hughes he's also an MLB-ready 21-year-old with No. 1-starter upside who can't become a free agent until after 2013.
Amazingly, the Yankees' collection of impressive young arms doesn't stop there. Ian Kennedy isn't on the same level as Hughes and Chamberlain, but he's another former first-round pick who posted a 1.89 ERA in three starts with the Yankees as a 22-year-old. Kennedy's minor-league resume includes a 1.87 ERA and 165-to-52 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 149.1 innings, but he projects more as a Kevin Slowey-style No. 2 or No. 3 starter thanks to less than overpowering stuff.
While top-notch young pitching is always nice, the Twins have plenty of that on their own and are in need of young bats. New York is pretty well covered there too. At the big-league level, Robinson Cano is a 24-year-old second baseman who's proven to be better than expected defensively while batting .314/.346/.489 in 414 games. He's one of the best second basemen in baseball already and has three more years before hitting the open market, but will begin to get expensive soon thanks to arbitration.
Melky Cabrera is a switch-hitting center fielder who's batted .275/.340/.388 in 286 big-league games through the age of 22. Reviews of his defense are mixed and it remains to be seen how much power he'll develop long term, but Cabrera could immediately replace Torii Hunter while likely giving the Twins at worst league-average production at the position over the next four seasons. Dipping down into the minors, the Yankees also have several big-time hitting prospects.
A toolsy outfielder who was taken out of high school in the eighth round of the 2005 draft, Austin Jackson batted .304/.370/.476 with 13 homers, 52 total extra-base hits, 33 steals, and a 109-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 games between two levels of Single-A as a 20-year-old. He's several years away from the majors and is far from a sure thing, but Jackson has tremendous potential on both sides of the ball and could be the long-term answer in center field.
At 18 years old Jose Tabata is even further from the majors than Jackson, but he batted .307/.371/.392 in 103 games at high Single-A in 2007 and carries a .305/.375/.406 career hitting line in 233 pro games. Tabata's a right fielder, so his long-term value depends largely on his ability to develop significant power down the road, but what he's accomplished as a teenager playing against far more experienced competition shows the ability to become a star.
There are some other intriguing prospects in the Yankees' system (Allan Horne, Daniel McCutchen, Dellin Betances, Humberto Sanchez, Brett Gardner, Tyler Clippard, George Kontos), but for the most part Hughes, Chamberlain, Kennedy, Cano, Cabrera, Jackson, and Tabata represent their best young talent and the players who a potential deal for Santana would seemingly be built around. As for which combination of those guys the Yankees would part with for Santana, that's much more difficult to say.
GROUP 1: Hughes, Chamberlain, CanoWhile certainly not a perfect way to examine the possibilities, the Yankees' young talent can probably be broken down into three groups. Group 1 represents players who're either already stars (Cano) or can potentially become superstars (Hughes, Chamberlain). Group 2 represents players who're either already above average (Cabrera) or can potentially become stars (Kennedy, Jackson, Tabata). Group 3 represents players who can potentially become above average.
While Twins fans would no doubt love to get Hughes, Chamberlain, and Cano as the haul for Santana, that's realistically never going to happen. At the same time, Yankees fans suggesting that the Twins might accept a handful of Group 3 players for Santana is equally far-fetched. A middle ground would seem to be one player from Group 1, one player from Group 2, and a couple players from Group 3. Of course, there are indications that the Yankees have no interest in trading Chamberlain or Cano.
That would leave Hughes as the lone member of Group 1, which is fine given that he's a perfect player to build a trade for Santana around. Start with Hughes, add Cabrera, Kennedy, Jackson, or Tabata, and then pick two from Horne, McCutchen, Betances, Sanchez, Gardner, and Clippard. It's only speculation, of course, but that would seem to be a palatable trade for both sides. From the Twins' point of view, it's not the no-brainer package that fans are surely hoping for, but it's plenty of talent.
General manager Bill Smith will have no shortage of appealing options for trading Santana and can put together dozens of different packages from each team. Because of that, I'm hopeful that he views the starting point in each potential trade as one truly elite young player who's at least 3-4 years away from free agency. It might be tempting to take quantity over quality with an eye towards re-stocking the farm system, but acquiring someone like Hughes (or Chamberlain, or Cano) should be the priority.
If that's not possible--there obviously aren't a whole lot of young players who fit that description and even fewer of them are available--then settling for anything less than a trio of Group 2-caliber players would seemingly be a mistake. After all, if Santana can't fetch at least one Group 1 player and a Group 2 player or three Group 2 players, then the Twins can simply keep him for 2008 and get a pair of draft picks when he leaves as a free agent.
Even if there's zero chance of keeping him in Minnesota long term, Santana's 2008 season has a ton of value to a Twins team that could easily be in playoff contention and there's a good chance that they'd end up with a pair of solid prospects from the draft picks. In other words, there's no reason to trade him without getting elite young talent in return. With that said, if a team like the Yankees is willing to build a package around Hughes while also including Cabrera, Kennedy, Tabata, or Jackson, it's time to listen.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Thanksgiving gave me an excuse to take Friday off, because tryptophan-powered blogging can be dangerous. However, since my "bookmarks" folder would get completely out of control if two weeks pass between Link-O-Rama entries, here's a special Monday link dump for your enjoyment.
The MinnPost staff includes tons of familiar names, with the sports section alone featuring former City Pages editor G.R. Anderson (who wrote a pair of articles involving me), former Star Tribune basketball reporter Steve Aschburner, and frequent New York Times contributor Pat Borzi. Being exclusive to NBC Sports and Rotoworld sadly kept me from getting involved in the project, but having talked privately with Kramer about his goals and plans there's no doubt in my mind that it'll be a worthwhile daily stop.
I'm certainly not going to argue with that.
The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler's time on earth: I'm sure he would have eliminated all bloggers. In Colonial times, bloggers were called "Pamphleteers." They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO.Seriously.
- Official Homegrown Twins Beat Writer of AG.com
- Official Twins Insider of AG.com
- Official Reliable Twins Source of AG.com
- Official Mainstream Twins Blogger of AG.com
- Official Twins Features Writer of AG.com
None of those seem especially catchy at first glance, but I'm willing to trust the masses if everyone feels strongly one way or another. Feel free to cast your vote in the comments section.
It's really disturbing. I can see him not winning the award, but leaving him off eight ballots is just a sign of personal prejudice. I think it's wrong. At that point, it has nothing to do with the player's performance. The award is not a popularity race. I don't think there was any way he wasn't one of the top three rookies in the league.The idea that "personal prejudice" needed to be present for a right fielder who batted .288/.316/.408 to be left off eight Rookie of the Year ballots is absurd. If anything, by finishing second in the voting Young's mediocre season was significantly overrated by voters who saw his 93 RBIs and ignored everything else. My ballot is meaningless because I don't write for a newspaper, but Young wasn't even close to being on it. Apparently that's "disturbing" and "has nothing to do with the player's performance."
Jaric has been a huge disappointment (that was initially written as "huge bust," but avoiding the pun seems like a good move) since general manager Kevin McHale misguidedly traded Sam Cassell and a future first-round pick for him and Hammer called him "incredibly stupid" (among other unfavorable things). Of course, Jaric is a mediocre player with a $38 million contract and Hammer probably isn't the only woman he's dated who makes a living by being attractive, so he must be doing something right.
In much darker news, longtime BTLS friend and Huff's former Devil Rays teammate Joe Kennedy died early Friday morning at the age of 28. Selected by Tampa Bay in the eighth round of the 1998 draft, Kennedy won 43 games with a 4.79 ERA in 908.2 innings while pitching for four teams spread over seven big-league seasons. Kennedy was especially close to BTLS sidekick Matt "Spice Boy" Lloyd, who wrote a pretty touching tribute to him on his BTLS.com blog.
If you like that song, you might be amused to see her reaction to hearing it on the radio for the first time.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.